Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
November 10, 2010
Lisa A. Banner The Religious Patronage of the Duke of Lerma, 1598–1621 Burlington: Ashgate, 2009. 270 pp.; 45 b/w ills. Cloth $99.00 (9780754661207)

The reign and artistic patronage of Philip III of Spain are often overlooked, lost in the long shadows cast by Philip II and Philip IV, and by El Escorial and Diego Velázquez. Yet, Philip III reigned for nearly a quarter of a century and was a significant patron of the arts. Lisa Banner’s The Religious Patronage of the Duke of Lerma, 1598–1621 sheds a powerful new light on Philip III and Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas, the Duke of Lerma, and in the process illuminates an important period of royal artistic patronage in early Baroque Spain. With great skill and insight Banner presents Lerma’s religious patronage as a “manifestation of political power” (8). While major artistic projects are often reflections of power, such projects can also be essential tools in the creation, control, or maintenance of power. This close connection between art and power is well demonstrated in Banner’s excellent book.

The Religious Patronage of the Duke of Lerma is organized into four chapters: the first provides an overview of Lerma’s activities, while the following three chapters chart the course of Lerma’s increasingly ambitious artistic patronage through case studies of the duke’s activities in Valladolid, Lerma, and Madrid. In chapter 1, “The Culture and Practice of Lerma’s Religious Patronage,” Banner offers a “new understanding” of Lerma’s artistic patronage by reexamining archival records concerned with Lerma’s projects within the context of his participation in the Order of Santiago, of which he was made Comendador Mayor in 1599 (9). Banner begins with a succinct review of the development of artistic patronage in Spain, demonstrating that success was determined by proximity to the king. Lerma, Philip’s acknowledged favorite, was uniquely placed to wield power because of his closeness to Philip. Lerma achieved that position, and strengthened it throughout his long tenure, by strict adherence to the Regla, the spiritual rules of the Order. The Regla required knights to donate one-fifth of their possessions to convents and churches. As a Trece (a member of the Order’s council of thirteen elders), Lerma was required to provide for “all of the religious establishments mentioned in the Regla” (22). Thus Lerma spent freely on a range of religious orders, churches, monasteries, hospitals, and colleges rather than focusing on a single religious foundation. The chapter concludes with brief discussions of the execution of Lerma’s projects, his desire to enter religious life (which he ultimately did when made cardinal in 1618), and the importance of patronage in the “Gift Culture” of the Hapsburg court.

Chapter 2, “Valladolid, 1600–1606,” discusses Lerma’s activities in that city during its brief time as the site of the royal court, detailing projects executed for the Dominicans at the Church and Monastery of San Pablo and for the Discalced Franciscan at the Church and Monastery of San Diego. Banner begins by suggesting the scale and scope of Lerma’s patronage in Valladolid: by 1617, he spent forty-four percent of his income contributing to fifteen religious institutions and a hospital and by endowing a chair in theology at the university (48). Philip III amplified Lerma’s patronage with funds from the court’s coffers, thus giving further impetus to Lerma’s projects. The goal was to link Philip III to Philip II by fashioning new ecclesiastical architecture in Valladolid that emulated the estilo desornamentado of the Escorial. Banner demonstrates an explicit connection to the Escorial by citing a contract that required the choir stalls in San Pablo to be of the same measurements of those in the Escorial (82). Beyond his commitments to the king and the Regla, Lerma also sought to promote himself and his family. An example is the placement of the Sandoval y Rojas escutcheon in the nave vault of San Pablo, under which royal events such as baptisms and holy day masses would take place. While the escutcheons indicated Lerma’s intervention in the church and support of the Dominicans (and thus the fulfillment of his obligations under the Regla), it also linked Lerma to the monarchy. More physical links were the construction of pasadizos (covered walkways reserved for Lerma or the king) that connected palaces to churches. Inside the churches Lerma’s projects, such as the statues by Pompeo Leoni for San Pablo, announced “Lerma’s desire to be considered among the ranks of princes” and “spelled out his intention to imitate Philip II’s patronage at the Escorial” (191).

Banner’s third chapter, “Ciudad-Convento Lerma,” presents the duke’s efforts to transform Lerma into “a ducal town dominated by churches and conventual buildings, devoted to religious life” (109). Relying on primary sources (notably Sandoval’s Chrónica del Inclito Emperador de España, don Alonso VII and Dextro’s famous forgery, the Chronicon), Banner shows that an apocryphal history of Lerma was employed to elevate the town’s religious importance. Visits to Lerma by St. James Major (Santiago) and later St. Peter, with the former preaching the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, provided the basis for Lerma to become a key base for the promotion of that doctrine, a concern dear to Philip III. The duke thus set out to transform the urban fabric of Lerma, interweaving the duke, the king, and Santiago into a tapestry of churches and convents. Banner then turns to the architecture itself, discussing the new ducal palace by Francisco de Mora, who had worked at the Escorial. The palace’s style set the tone for four other projects Banner discusses: the convents of San Blas, Las Clarisas, Madre de Dios, and the collegiate church of San Pedro, the architecture of which “is remarkably unified, the result of [Lerma’s] single vision” (122). Within the discussion of these foundations Banner devotes several pages to Sor Estefanía de la Encarnación, a largely forgotten woman artist whose story is “emblematic of the personal interest Lerma took in the convents in his town, and the importance of art for this patron” (139). The chapter concludes with a vivid description of the inauguration of Lerma’s new buildings.

“Lerma’s Plans for a Monumental Church in Madrid,” the book’s concluding chapter, is concerned with Lerma’s unrealized efforts to build a church that would have “exceeded the Escorial and equaled the basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome” (171). Banner’s reconstruction of this project relies on a thorough reading of the Traza, a rich manuscript that details Lerma’s plan. Dedicated to Philip III and appealing to his sense of piety, the manuscript urges the king to build a vast new church for Madrid and explains its benefits. Divided into five parts, the manuscript addresses every aspect of the construction of the church, from its plan and materials to the budget, revenue generation, and the pope’s involvement, with every aspect planned by Lerma. The church, vast in scale and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, would make Philip III the founder and patron of what would be potentially “the most important church in Spain, if not the Catholic world” (183). The manuscript concludes by reassuring the king that to realize the plan all he needs to do is leave everything to Lerma. This project, however, does not survive Lerma’s fall in 1618. The text concludes with a neat summary of his achievements.

Banner’s book is a valuable contribution to patronage studies. Still, questions remain: why, for example, did the king pay the bills when it was clear that Lerma was overshadowing him? Nevertheless, Banner’s book bolsters recent studies of artistic production under Philip III, complementing, for example, El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III (Sarah Schroth and Ronni Baer, eds., Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2008), an exhibition catalogue with which Banner assisted (click here for review). Banner’s book is a much-needed addition to the general scholarship on Lerma, which includes Patrick Williams’s The Great Favourite: The Duke of Lerma and the Court and Government of Philip III of Spain, 1598–1621 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), and Antonio Feros’s El Duque de Lerma. Realeza y privanza en la España de Felipe III (Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2002). Previous studies lack sustained discussions of Lerma’s artistic patronage, which commanded large shares of his time and money, and neglect this vital means by which Lerma gained power. Banner, however, demonstrates the centrality of artistic patronage in Lerma’s career through her survey of the duke’s progressively elaborate projects. Lerma’s position in the Order of Santiago produced financial resources that could be spent upholding the Regla, which in turn won the king’s favor and more resources. The more Lerma spent, the more he gained. While Lerma followed the Hapsburg tradition of founding and supporting religious institutions, as Philip II had, “Lerma was the first to act as a patron on this grand scale, and in several cities at once” (195). The pattern of patronage followed by Philip IV and Olivares was one that emulated Philip III and his favorite, the Duke of Lerma.

Matthew Knox Averett
Associate Professor, Department of Fine and Performing Arts, Creighton University